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Back to school… August 6, 2020

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Intriguing that Breda O’Brien is the one IT commentator to offer a half-way robust analysis of the reopening of schools. One that eschews the rather florid and vague language of Fintan O’Toole on the same subject the same weekend in favour of looking at the hard issues around how the ‘plan’ will work.

Her basic thesis is sound:

The only way the virus can be kept out of schools is if community transmission is low. Conditions will be far from ideal in school. If we are going to ask very young people and their teachers to take these risks, everyone else is going to have to wear masks, practise social distancing and be willing to give up unsafe socialising or going abroad unnecessarily.

And she puts her finger on one key aspect:

The worries expressed about reopening are real. Schools are being asked to operate in conditions different from most of society. For example, in my local church, only 72 people are allowed to attend in a space with soaring vaulted ceilings that measures seven times the size of a larger classroom. We will be putting 24 pupils and a teacher into 49sq m in classrooms. Sure, schools are full of healthy young people while churches are mainly full of older people at greater risk. But some of the rules that apply in supermarkets, pubs and restaurants, or even choirs, will not apply in school. School buses are being treated differently to public transport.

Many teachers have underlying health conditions as do a minority of students but only the most high-risk individuals will be allowed to work from home.

My concern is what happens if outbreaks occur in school settings and not merely for students, staff and teachers affected, no doubt some injuriously. What is plan B? O’Brien argues that given other issues, educational, mental health and so forth, ‘reopening remains the least bad option’. That may indeed be correct as it stands at the moment. But what if reopening proves impossible to sustain. We’ve seen numerous instances now where as in Israel it has been necessary to shut down, due in part to transmission in schools (and evidence continues to come in as to the issue of infection within schools and other settings with young people), but also more broadly in the community.

Perhaps inevitably some accounts of how Israel and other places fared are beginning to seep into the consciousness of the media at last. They make for grim reading.

Confident it had beaten the coronavirus and desperate to reboot a devastated economy, the Israeli government invited the entire student body back in late May. Within days, infections were reported at a Jerusalem high school, which quickly mushroomed into the largest outbreak in a single school in Israel, possibly the world.

And the conclusions of those in Israel?

The lesson, experts say, is that even communities that have got the spread of the virus under control need to take strict precautions when reopening schools. Smaller classes, mask wearing, keeping desks two metres apart and providing adequate ventilation, they say, are likely to be crucial until a vaccine is available.

I think it is reasonable to reopen schools on some basis. As the article notes ‘Only one option has been ruled out: closing the schools. “This is a long-term pandemic,” said Dr Nadav Davidovitch, a pandemic policy adviser to the government. “We cannot close schools for a year.”’. That’s fair enough. The question is on what basis are schools reopened. And that looks likely to mean adopting much more stringent measures than those currently advocated.

Note that in this state that two-metres requirement has already been diluted down, potentially to no metres at all in some instances. As to smaller classes the pushback against any sort of remote learning has, at least rhetorically, put paid to that. And yet, as noted earlier during the week, the trope that ‘everywhere’ in Europe had reopened schools – entirely false as it happens since Germany only just reopened theirs with considerable social distancing, is now being superseded by huge concerns raised in states which have attempted reopenings. For example:

Denmark’s state epidemiologist has said he could not recommend proceeding to the next phase of reopening society during the coronavirus outbreak, Danish media Ingenioeren reported.

“It is not something that I can recommend from a healthcare perspective that you go ahead with,” Kare Molbak, director of Statens Serum Institut (the State’s Serum Institute) said according to Ingenioeren.

The government and parliament are due to begin discussing the fourth phase of reopening, including nightclubs, this month.

And tellingly:

The weekly number of people infected with Covid-19 in Denmark has risen in the past couple of weeks.

But there’s more. Only last night the Guardian had this report looking at the cases in Georgia and Israel and offering this sobering conclusion:

Amid a vigorous debate in the UK and elsewhere about the reopening of schools, the Georgia events have highlighted how little is known about the spread of Covid in younger age groups, with much of the focus in recent months on older and more vulnerable populations.

Part of the issue, as the Harvard epidemiologist William Hanage explained last month, is that many countries closed schools early in the pandemic, leaving little opportunity to study if and how the virus spread among children, and studies that had been made of children and transmission were sometimes problematic.

And:

“The other thing about it is that the closure of schools and other interaction, other actions that people have taken as part of social distancing, limit the opportunity of children to make contacts along which the virus could transmit. So, we’re not seeing the types of interactions that we might expect if schools are opened.”

Comments»

1. Alibaba - August 6, 2020

Breda O’Brien makes some valid points, especially when she refers to sound medical advice. Given the risks to be taken by those in schools, she requires others ‘to have to wear masks, practise social distancing and be willing to give up unsafe socialising or going abroad unnecessarily.’

As always, she avoids drawing pertinent conclusions, in this instance about why did it take so long to bring out guidelines? 

And now at third level the same issue arises with new guidelines: ‘Third level students will have to wear face coverings during lectures if they are sitting between one and two metres apart’.

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/education/students-to-wear-face-coverings-in-lectures-where-two-metre-distance-not-possible-1.4323087

The answer to my question is that Micheál Martin is a ditherer and Varadkar is forcing his hand by making premature announcements and by happy chance promoting his own profile. 

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - August 6, 2020

Very true re avoiding pertinent conclusions. And Martin does appear to be dithering.

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2. tafkaGW - August 6, 2020

I find the “discussion” increasingly exasperating.

Sure schools should open again – but they need to look at what we know about how the virus is transmitted.

95% of infection is by small (aerosol) or larger droplets breathed out by an infected person and breathed in by another in enclosed spaces densely occupied by people. Children are just as infectious as adults and more likely to pass the virus on without noticing.

Why not insist children wear adequate clothing and have every window open and powerful but silent fans pumping air through every classroom to ensure a complete air exchange every five minutes.

When the weather is dry hold classes outside.

Masks worn at all times and the 1.5 meter rule should be policed.

But it’s the regular air change that makes all the difference. Basic freaking physics that so many people don’t seem able to grasp.

Probably because that means money being spent.

Children and staff who have special need of a warm environment should probably be shielding at home anyway.

And of course the airports should be kept shut down while we go through a world-wide exponential spike in cases which will lead to a spike in deaths and serious disability a month later.

Liked by 3 people

WorldbyStorm - August 6, 2020

+1 tafkaGW. I’m entirely certain schools should open but for them to do so is going to require something a lot better than them ‘opening as normal’. And generations of underinvestment (schools with no hot water in taps for Christ’s sake!) have to be reversed.

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irishelectionliterature - August 6, 2020

Given the trend is case numbers, you’d have to think that the rules re masks etc for schools will have to be changed. …. That’s if they can open at all.

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WorldbyStorm - August 6, 2020

+1

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WorldbyStorm - August 6, 2020

It’s been kind of coming a while now, and it strikes me the government has been oddly reticent in engaging with that fact. Alibaba was saying MM dithers. Not sure if that’s all of it but there’s a real sense of them not getting to grips with things.

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3. 6to5against - August 6, 2020

All the focus on the coverage of the current school plan is on the business-as-normal, sort-of social distancing plans. Most of the people I’ve been talking to doubt that they can be realistically followed with the facilities available to schools, and in such a short timeframe. But written into the plan is a provision that ‘where plans can’t be followed’, masks should be worn.

The framing is all a little odd. All we need is a change of emphasis: masks should be worn, but in situations where adequate social distancing is possible, they can be taken off. And as the months go by, with a bit more time to plan and organise, they may not be needed so much.

But as things are set up right now, its going to be very hard for schools to insist on masks.

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6to5against - August 6, 2020

When I say ‘with facilities available to schools,’ its hard to underestimate just how sparse they are. I think most schools have a principal, deputy principal and a maintenance manager on site right now. Big schools might stretch to maybe 5 staff. To figure all this out, rearrange furniture, set up these video feeds, access new equipment, redesignate rooms etc…
All on top of the usual school planning which can be overwhelming at this stage: advertising for, interviewing and hiring staff, building a timetable, managing enrolment etc.
In just over three weeks these schools will have to be ready to look after, typically, 600 – 1000 people on campus for full days. About 5 times the number that are now allowed to watch a football game in a big stadium.

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WorldbyStorm - August 6, 2020

I’m beginning to wonder is it going to happen 6to5. I”m on the BOM of an NS. I’ve no doubt they’re trying to do their best but… it’s packed to the gills already, there’s no room for expansion. I cannot see how they can accommodate staff, teachers and students safely.

Liked by 1 person

tafkaGW - August 7, 2020

Open every window – let the air blow through.

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - August 7, 2020

Well that’s not cheering.

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WorldbyStorm - August 7, 2020

Sorry, that was in response to your comment below re cases already popping up in schools in Germany.

Agree re opening windows. But I wonder how that works from October one when it begins to get colder?

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tafkaGW - August 7, 2020

Put a coat and an extra sweater on. It rarely gets really cold in Ireland if you’re out of the wet.

We are going to have to start thinking a little outside their physical comfort zone / habits if we’re going to slow the pandemic until we have a vaccine and/or treatment.

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4. tafkaGW - August 7, 2020

Already two Covid19 outbreaks in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern schools in Germany and they’ve only been back at school for four days.

In one primary school a child was infected, and in the other secondary school a teacher.

Schools closed for two weeks and all pupils and teachers have to go into quarantine.

And so it will go on – and Meck-Pomm has one of the lowest rates of community virus presence.

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5. crocodileshoes - August 10, 2020

From the new New Yorker about, well, New York – but every word applies here, especially the point about teachers’ unions having a duty to represent those who have no representation (and to annoy the Wall St Journal).

‘The focus on teachers’ safety, and the stand taken by their unions, has provoked some anger—this is, after all, a country willing to mandate that a teacher endanger her life but not that a teen-ager wear a mask. The most thoughtless voices, exemplified by a Wall Street Journal editorial last week entitled “School-Opening Extortion,” dismiss teachers’ fears and accuse them of being little more than pandemic shakedown artists looking to “squeeze more money from taxpayers.” Others argue that teachers are “essential workers,” and need to take the risks that come with the job, just as health-care or transit or food-industry workers do. But essential workers have every right to insist that sensible measures be taken for their safety. Teachers, because their unions are organized and politically influential, can stand up for themselves in a way that immigrant meatpacking workers cannot; in a sense, that power confers an obligation to speak out and set standards for what any worker in this long pandemic deserves.’

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sonofstan - August 10, 2020

Wall Street Journal calls teachers ‘shakedown artists’….

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WorldbyStorm - August 10, 2020

They wouldn’t see the irony of their using the term

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WorldbyStorm - August 10, 2020

Big time. It’s like the way public sector working conditions inflect albeit to a decreasing degree conditions more broadly.

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6. CL - August 10, 2020

“The Paulding County high school that became infamous for hallways crowded with unmasked students will retreat online for at least a couple days this week after revealing that a half-dozen students and three staffers were diagnosed with COVID-19….
The school made national news after it opened Monday and images of
the crowded hallways quickly went viral on social media.
The school district suspended two students, including one who publicly acknowledged posting one of the photos on Tuesday. The punishment led to a national outcry from critics who said school leaders were trying to silence the students. After the pushback, the district relented and lifted the suspensions on Friday”
https://www.ajc.com/education/9-cases-of-covid-19-reported-at-north-paulding-high-school/OWH6MN7DZ5A2XDQMXX337AQEWI/

“Children might be more vulnerable to Covid-19 than once believed, with new research suggesting that they are able to contract and spread the virus, especially if they don’t take precautions such as wearing a mask.”
https://www.wsj.com/articles/latest-research-points-to-children-carrying-transmitting-coronavirus-11596978001

“New York students can return to their schools next month if their district plans have been cleared for in-person instruction, but not before local district leaders meet virtually with parents and teachers to address their concerns, the state said Friday.

“They’re all authorized to open,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a telephone conference call, adding that the decision is based on the viral infection rate of 1% and can change if there’s a spike. “If there’s a matter of concern in the infection rate, then we can revisit it. But for planning purposes, they can reopen.”
https://www.newsday.com/long-islandeducation/school-reopening-plan-1.47864749

“Mayor Bill de Blasio struck a confident note about the reopening of schools on Monday, saying the city was better prepared for the challenge than most — even as more than a quarter of students opt for all-remote learning….
The dilemma over whether to go to school or not is compounded in part by the heat and the state of some schools’ HVAC systems, which has some places contemplating the prospect of outdoor schooling.

“In good weather, outdoors is definitely something that can add different options for schools,” De Blasio said.
https://www.nbcnewyork.comnews/local/schools-mull-outdoor-classes-amid-virus-ventilation-worries/2559454/

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7. tafkaGW - August 11, 2020

Where schools have continued to function with, so far, relatively few outbreaks (e.g. Finland) they have done so by:

Reducing the numbers in classrooms to 15 or less.
Ensuring that only one teacher is in contact with each group.
Allowing sufficient space between teachers and pupils.
Installing more plumbing for regular handwashing.

etc. etc.

This means spending money, and at the same time reducing the breadth of education.

If you’re going to re-open schools you have to be prepared to invest a considerable amount of money. You can’t do it on the cheap.

And the money is there of course. It just needs to be taxed out of the usual suspects.

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - August 11, 2020

That’s it. There is no low cost solution. Opening schools is essential but the narrative here in Ireland is very deceptive and almost deceitful, that opening comes with logistical and financial costs that have to be engaged with, not wished away. Or and this is true of so much of the crisis, the virus comes back and stuff shuts right down again. It’s so self evident you’d have to wonder why it is ignored time and again.

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